The CMA has secured the disqualification of two Berkshire estate agent directors after both took part in an illegal price fixing cartel.
Stephen Jones and Neil Mackenzie were directors at estate agents Richard Worth and Michael Hardy, respectively, from September 2008 to May 2015.
During this time, their firms took part in a cartel with two other local estate agents in which they conspired together to set minimum rates for commission on the sale of residential properties in Wokingham, Winnersh, Crowthorne, Bracknell and Warfield – where they were the leading estate agents at that time.
Both have now been disqualified for six and a half years for their roles in the cartel, meaning they cannot act as directors of any companies or be involved in the management of any company based in England, Scotland or Wales during this time.
The move follows a Competition and Markets Authority (CMA) investigation into the cartel, which found that the four estate agents maintained the illegal activity for almost seven years.
They exchanged confidential information on pricing and held meetings to make sure all members of the cartel enforced and maintained the agreed minimum rates.
This meant that homeowners in the affected areas were denied the chance of securing the best possible deal when selling their property because they were unable to meaningfully shop around all their local estate agents for a better commission rate.
And, as a result, three of the four estate agents – including Richard Worth and Michael Hardy – were fined over £600,000 for their illegal behaviour.
Michael Grenfell, Executive Director of Enforcement, said:
“Selling your home can be a stressful and expensive experience, and one that shouldn’t be made harder by estate agents conspiring to cheat homeowners out of the best deal.
“Company directors have an important responsibility to make sure their firms don’t take part in this kind of anti-competitive behaviour.
“Today’s disqualifications should send a clear message to the sector – stay on the right side of the law or face the consequences.”
The two disqualifications announced today bring the total number of directors disqualified following a CMA investigation to eighteen.
As part of the Company Directors Disqualification Act, the CMA can seek the disqualification of any director where their company has broken competition law.
It is one of a number of tools the CMA can use to protect consumers from anti-competitive behaviour.
EYE readers may recall the start of this case.
The Competition and Markets Authority imposed fines totalling £605,519 on three of the agents but let the fourth off.
The fines were imposed on Michael Hardy; Prospect; and Richard Worth (in administration) and Richard Worth Holdings, together Richard Worth.
The CMA did not fine the fourth agent Romans, as it was the first to confess its participation in the arrangement, under the CMA’s leniency programme and co-operated with the investigation.